TTC: “Spacehunter” (1983)

“You have a very enviable life force, a life force you’re going to share with me.” ~~Overdog

Jeff Foxworthy, that sapient nutsheller of things classless, once remarked that “redneck” could be defined as “a glorious absence of sophistication.” While no evidence exists that he was talking about “Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone,” I have my suspicions. Because that phrase was invented for this movie, a 90-minute celebration of space travel camp, hideous costumes (including the clear prototype for Mike Myers’ Fat Bastard suit), hammy repartee and sexual innuendo. Lots of sexual innuendo, enough that Johnson could have cut the music director and just played Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” on loop. Admit it: The title even sounds a little dirty. Just exactly what kind of “forbidden zone” is this strapping space pirate “hunting” in?

Cough, cough. I digress. Portentous movie titles will do that to a red-blooded movie critic. A crime it would be for me to misrepresent “Spacehunter” as soft-core intergalactic porn; director Lamont Johnson’s ambitions aren’t so … below the belt. He works very hard to make this production, which contains all the one-liners Harrison Ford rejected during his tenure as Han Solo and all the costumes and props George Lucas vetoed, thoroughly low-quality and sincerely unsubtle. (The villain wardbrobe budget seems to be roughly equivalent to what John Carpenter spent on that rubber mask and coveralls for “Halloween.”) Not just any leading man will do for a terrifically terrible film, and so Johnson gives us Wolff (Peter Strauss), or He of the Frosted, Silken, Lightly Styled Locks. His chiseled jaw affirms “I’m the swashbuckling hero around these parts,” and that swaggering posture finishes the job. Wolff is the Cap’n Mal Reynolds of the 1980s; he’s always but a hairsbreadth from riddlin’ someone with holes.

Wolff, as his name signals, works alone as a salvage ship captain in this 22nd-century cosmos. He’s content picking up work where he finds it. He’s also careful to leave plenty of time for bedding his hard-bodied robot Chalmers (Andrea Marcovicci). On a break from his sheet-rumpling hobby, he intercepts a call for help: Three Earth women were ejected from their space cruise liner when it crashed into a meteor, and they landed on the nearest planet, presided over by Overdog (Michael Ironside), the mother of all eevyill dictators. (Updog is his cousin.) In pursuit of the fetching Earthwomen he runs into Niki (Molly Ringwald when her hair color was found in nature), a smart-mouthed orphan who knows a meal ticket when she sees one. She also needs a Father Figure (“us loners got to stick together” was the first draft of “you complete me”), and Wolff looks better than anyone else. So Niki’s along for the ride, as is Washington (Ernie Hudson), Token Black Guy with Jokes. Soon they’re off to Overdog’s lair, where they’ll tangle with A Pimp Named The Chemist (Hrant Alianak). This guy’s a beaut who provides Earth girls to satisfy his master’s manful needs (he’s been really tryin’ baby…). The Chemist, however, is a pimp with discerning taste, remarking “I hate it when they’re missing limbs.”

Once “Spacehunter” boils down to the smackdown in Overdog’s dwelling, things get supernovas beyond gonzo and the film’s treasures rise to the surface. Behold the shabby joys of an underworld that looks as though it was built in some guy named Tito’s basement! Lamont Johnson obviously spared every expense, bless his C-list heart, for Overdog (whose S&M-styled contraption whispers “Oh No, Baby, I’m Not Compensating for Anything”), The Chemist and the creatures in their steamy hideaway, most of which resemble the product of an orgy involving Fat Bastard’s father, Ursula from “Little Mermaid” and Jabba the Hut. Ironside, sporting a fine pre-“Powder” makeup job, flagrantly delights in his innuendo-laden dialogue about “fusion tubes” and “enviable life forces”; call him a villain if you want, but he’s also a dirty old geezer for time immemorial. Unlike garden-variety dirty old geezers, though, he’s not relegated to flashing direction-giving Good Samaritans — no, Overdog has resources and a lot of spare time. Better still, he has a director who gives him free reign to go all in fast and furious.

That’s what she said.

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